One of my favorite things to do every few years is to flip through the old Theologian in Residence file I inherited when I began working here seven years ago. In it are correspondence between BMPC clergy and some of the most renowned public scholars and theologians of the late 20th century as scholars of note were invited to teach and preach for the congregation and larger community. I love reading their notes of gratitude for time spent with us, their regrets at not being able to accept the invitation, and even some of the logistical back and forth that even 20 years ago took place via letters sent through the mail, rather than through email as we do today.
As we consider each year who should be invited to speak as our Theologian in Residence, we often wonder about what it means to be a public theologian in our time. We often ask, “Who is talking about what it means to be a person of faith in a changing and challenging world?” “Whose voice should we be paying attention to?” “Who will challenge and change us as individuals and as a community?”
Lisa Sharon Harper, this year’s Theologian in Residence, brings a unique and bold voice to the world in these days. Coming out of the Evangelical tradition, she is a longtime collaborator with others in the Progressive Evangelical movement like Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne. But as an African American woman she also brings a very distinct perspective on what it means for people of faith to name what is broken in the world and how the church is both called and equipped to be a place of repair.
It is interesting for me to try to hear the voices of scholars like Walter Brueggemann, Fredrick Buechner, Martin Marty and Miroslav Volf that come out of my old paper files. Most often I hear Lisa’s voice coming out of my cell phone as I listen to the weekly conversations she hosts on Instagram about the pressing and complicated issues we are wrestling with today.
Lisa will be speaking mostly from her new book that traces the roots of her family and its intersection with racism in the United States, but the first book of hers I ever read is called The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (which incidentally has a foreword written by Walter Brueggemann). In the book she digs deeply into the meaning of the biblical concept of Shalom – what it means to be whole and good and restored – and our calling to deepen our understanding of the Gospel.
For more than a century now, thinned out faith has left the divided American church struggling to grasp the significance of the prophetic voices among us. It also has left us without the biblical foundations needed to comprehend Kingdom theology. What we need is a thicker approach to the central question of our faith: What is the good news of the gospel?
We are so excited after two years apart that we are able to host Lisa in person as our Theologian in Residence on April 30 and May 1. We hope you will be able to set these dates aside to join us in person or via the church’s livestream page for her lectures on Saturday and Sunday. It also is a privilege to hear from Lisa as our preacher on Sunday morning, May 1. You can find more details about Lisa, her writing and her unique voice on our website. The details for the weekend are listed below. Copies of her new book, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World and How to Repair it All, can be purchased in advance for $10 each from the church office or at her lectures.
Saturday, April 30
9:30 a.m. – Brunch and Coffee in the Atrium
10:00 a.m. – Opening Lecture and Q&A in the Sanctuary
Fortune: The Intersectional Origins of Race and Gender in the U.S.
Sunday, May 1
10:00 a.m. – Sanctuary Worship, Lisa Sharon Harper, preaching
11:15 a.m. – Second Lecture and Q&A in the Sanctuary
Fortune: Forgiveness and the Beloved Community